Until recently, web users in China could bypass the Great Firewall that blocks them from accessing many websites with the help of an Apple app called OpenDoor. But in July, Apple pulled the app from its China store, developers of the app say.
“We learned about [it] purely through our users’ reporting,” said one of the developers, who noticed on July 11 that the number of Chinese users downloading the product had dropped from a couple of thousand to zero overnight.
Apple asks app developers to ensure that their products “comply with all legal requirements in any location where they are made available to users.”
OpenDoor’s developers disagree with Apple’s decision. “It is unclear to us how a simple browser app could include illegal contents, since it’s the user’s own choosing of what websites to view,” they wrote in an email to Apple.
Prominent citizen journalist Zhou Shuguang said Apple had taken away one of the tools which Chinese web users relied on to circumvent the country’s tough Internet restrictions, while other social media users aired their frustrations on Weibo, even speculating that the company caved in to pressure from the Chinese government.
It’s not the first time that Apple has removed apps deemed “illegal in China.” The company withdrew a news app by a U.S.-based broadcaster founded by the outlawed Falun Gong group, as well as an app that gave users access to books banned in China. China has some 590 million online users, nearly 80% of whom access the Internet via smartphones and other portable devices.